Friday, 7 March 2014

A Shock to the Senses

           New Delhi, organized chaos. Not here, just chaos. I thought it might have been the fact that it was a busy, foreign city for the first time, but then I realized I had done this before and it wasn’t like this. Far from what I expected in both good ways and bad from the stereotypical assumptions of what I had seen in movies, documentaries, and heard from embellished stories. I didn’t get knocked out by the smell when I stepped out of the airplane, not that it smelt of peaches and roses, but it wasn't unbearable. Driving to my hostel, surrounded by cars, rickshaws and bikes scattered throughout the road (there are lanes, but they go unnoticed) the smell of pollution choked my nose with an accent of garbage. I didn’t realize how good a filter my nose was until I was shooting black shit like when I stacked straw and hay in the dusty, suffocating mow of a barn. Garbage lined the streets without the existence of trash bins. I felt awkward at first, scouting with my peripherals while I added to the piled gutters, trying to be sneaky hoping no one would see me. Impossible to hide, but it’s a join the crowd situation. The ground of Delhi was the garbage can.
              The crowds and lines of people were a little overwhelming until you got the hang of moving around. There is no such thing as personal space, more or less getting dry humped around every corner. Pushing to move ahead faster with nowhere to go, or grabbing and pulling you out of the way to squeeze through, it was an aggressive way of life, with no room for patience. Something that must be instilled from the first steps taken, or else one would not get anywhere. The weak would not survive. The cycle/auto rickshaws are relentless, but I was used to that as it’s the same where I’d been before. The key for me is to walk as if I know where I’m going, even though I couldn’t be more lost and never make eye contact. Once eye contact is established, it’s a license to hassle. Also unnecessarily long staring is to be expected. Especially on the metro, it’s fast paced, no mercy rules, and always too full. If you don’t make it in, the door just slams in front of you, or if so unlucky on you or your bag. Getting off at one of the last stops is a stampede from both directions. The gates open and they’re off. Funneling out, with two lines on either side just waiting for their opening to get on, chomping at the bit, and bulldoze the last few off. ‘Any unattended or suspicious article like a briefcase, bag, toy, thermos or transistor could be a bomb.’ But don’t worry, only a reassuring message scrolling the screen on the metro. All bags must go through a scanner before entering the platforms and a quick pat down required.
              To make reservations out of the city by train, the maze of the rail station must be taken on full force to find the tourist office to book your tickets in advance. Getting my arm pulled, being pointed in the wrong direction half a dozen times, I was lucky I had proper directions from someone who had already been, brushing them off like a grain of salt. Unfortunately not my strong suit but one must think ahead a couple days, which does makes sense considering millions of people use the train every day in India. For the buses, certain ones run frequently in which a reservation isn’t necessary, but it’s recommended if you want to make sure you get where you want, when you want.
              The markets are another world all of themselves. Frequenting a few of them, it’s nice that the fresh, fragrant food and brewing chai tea somewhat overcome the smell of exhaust. Diving right in I got a couple of samosas, deep fried paneer, chickpea dal with a chili powder, fresh lime, cilantro, eaten with chapatti bread, a dough rolled out and grilled or pan fried. Alleyways to get lost in everywhere you look, certain streets selling nothing but shoes, then saris, then glasses, it’s endless. Chandi Chowk, the well-known market in Old Delhi, right across from the Red Fort, sells just about anything you would want if you dig deep enough. At the end of this chaotic street, the wholesale spice market is right around the corner. Huge bags of chilies and spices on carts on their way out for delivery elsewhere, then every stall with bins of dates, nuts, whole and freshly ground spices, so fragrant your nose takes over, enough to make hundreds of masalas (spice blends).
              Upon leaving Delhi after only a few days heading north, my eyes laid witness to the first true slum I had ever seen. The train picking up speed slowly, the slums lined the tracks. Ramshackle homes built off each other, walls built of tarps, cinder blocks, sticks or whatever was available. Fields, layered with garbage, a massive compost pile, with pigs wallowing in it, dogs sniffing for food, cows trying to graze, and the whole area was used as the public toilet. Everyone has seen a glimpse of the slums in a movie, documentary or article, but seeing it for myself still only beneath the surface as I rolled past, I had to turn away. The worst is hidden from what I thought I knew. Having travelled to Asia before, I thought I had an understanding of what was to come, but this… this left me stunned, with a sense of stupidity and arrogance, realizing truthfully how little I know of this world and how lucky I am.